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Cracking Under Preschool Pressure

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The first day of kindergarten is around the corner. Is your child ready? What are you doing to prepare?

Recent articles have highlighted the growing trend of parents who feel the need to prep their preschoolers via tutoring companies such as Kumon Jr. to make sure they are academically ready for their voyage into big-kid school. It's only natural that parents try to give their kids a leg up as early as possible, right?

The real question is whether this kind of pre-kindergarten learning actually provides an advantage at all. A recent Scholastic article polled kindergarten teachers and came away with quite a different view on the skills teachers and admissions directors look for most in the pre-K set: "Enthusiasm Toward Learning," "The Desire to Be Independent," "The Ability to Play Well with Others," and "The Ability to Listen" rank high on the list of skills that evidence kindergarten readiness. "Basic Letter and Number Recognition" is there, but that's about it for traditional academics.

Leaders in early childhood education repeatedly say that it is more important for young children to learn how to problem-solve with others, practice independent motor and hygiene skills, and show an excitement for learning than it is for them to master their math and reading skills before they even begin kindergarten. So why do parents feel so driven to push their children into academic learning so early?

The tyranny of standardized testing has this country's parents in a stranglehold. Though we may not all approve, the Tiger Mom's definition of success is the ubiquitous measuring stick: we all can't help but compare our kids to the prodigy with the incredible talent, perfect A's and obedient smile. Unfortunately, the pressure pipeline -- making sure your child tests well, gets good grades, gets into a great kindergarten-elementary-high school-college-grad school-law firm -- is truly a direct path to social and emotional instability throughout life.

We all want to give our children every resource for success, but somehow we are missing the boat. Abundant studies show that not only are social and emotional skills the most important barometer for kindergarten readiness, they are also the key to successful (i.e. happier, more productive) lives as a whole. Dr. Laura Markham states in an interview for The Mother Company:

Why is emotional intelligence so important in raising a child? Managing anxiety in order to tackle a big project, managing anger to work through a marital conflict, managing fear to apply for a job -- the ability of a human being to manage his or her emotions in a healthy way will determine the quality of his life in a much more fundamental way than his mental IQ.

The race to ensure that our kids have every possible advantage can wind up putting them at a disadvantage when they are unable to relate to their peers, make friends, or thrive in a classroom environment. And if you're still on the leg-up bandwagon, helping children become school ready behaviorally will put them ahead of their peers more than learning their multiplication tables -- ask any kindergarten teacher who spends the majority of her time getting kids to sit still, raise their hands and wait to be called on, share, make friends, resolve conflicts or express themselves. Parents can and should ask themselves, "Can my child listen to a story without interrupting? Does he take direction well? Does she show an ability to engage and problem-solve with other children?"

Taking a break from the pressure pipeline to nurture your child's social and emotional growth is the best way to prepare him or her for kindergarten. Take that money and time you were going to spend at Kumon and go to the library, museum, beach, go hiking or just play in the yard with your child. That investment will pay off in spades.